Best Friends and Oreo’s Law Redux

For those of you who work with or know of rescues, try this little exercise:  Add up all the rescues you’ve worked with (or known) in your head.  Hang on to that number.  Now, of those rescues, add up the total number of them who are hoarders.  Using those two figures, please share in the comments the percentage of rescues you have worked with or known over the years who are hoarders.  I’ll start:  Zero.

Now I’m certainly not saying it’s impossible for a rescue group to actually hoard pets, I’m just saying I haven’t known any personally.  If I broaden my query to include the many rescues I’ve read about in doing research for this blog, I would come up with a different number.  It would have to be an estimate, mind you but I’d suppose that figure would be less than 1%.  I would say probably 99% of the rescues I’ve come across in the course of blogging appear to be legitimate groups, trying to adopt out pets saved from kill shelters.

So to my mind, the concern that if we don’t make rescues jump through enough hoops in order to pull from shelters, the pets will end up in hoarding type situations – is actually not a significant worry.  I think reasonable screening is a good idea to make sure they’re not some kind of scammers trying to make a buck selling the dogs or people who’ve been convicted of cruelty, etc.  But when it gets down to the point of this-pet-is-about-to-be-killed, frankly, I’d be willing to take the risk with an unscreened rescue and hope they fall into the vast majority category of legitimate groups.  Not saying that would be my first choice but since we’re talking about life and death here in conjunction with an extremely small risk, I’d rather err on the side of life.

Oreo’s Law has reasonable standards set for rescues who want to pull pets off death row in NY shelters.  In summary, the group can’t have an “officer, board member, staff member or volunteer” who is either facing dogfighting/cruelty/neglect charges or has been convicted of same.  There is a provision for inspection when serious suspicions of neglect or cruelty exist.  And the rescue has to be a 501(c)(3).  That’s enough to my mind.

Best Friends is apparently worried that hoarders are going to establish themselves as 501(c)(3)s and beat a path to NY to collect more animals.  Because that would be the easiest way for a hoarder to get more animals, right?

And so, immediately after the re-introduction of Oreo’s Law to the NY state assembly, Best Friends came out against it.  Last year, they said they were against it because of the danger of – you know, hoarders.  This year, they leave out the word hoarders but instead list demands for verbiage to be included in the bill before they would endorse it.  The demands are things that all 501(c)(3) rescues already have unless they are – you know, hoarders.

I wouldn’t like to see Oreo’s Law add much more by way of rescue requirements because I fear that some kill shelters might exploit any perceived deficiency in the list of requirements and use it as an excuse to refuse to release death row pets.  Nothing in life can be guaranteed.  Reasonable precautions can and should be taken.  For the rest left to chance, I’d rather give more power to the rescuers who want to save lives than the so-called shelters determined to kill pets.

C’mon Best Friends.  This is dumb.  And NY’s shelter pets are being needlessly killed while you play your games.

Best Friends Animal Society and Oreo’s Law

I think Best Friends Animal Society is talking about Oreo’s Law here but calling it “Kellner/Duane” (“Oreo’s Law” is referenced in the first sentence).  I’m not sure where they are coming up with the name “Kellner/Duane”.  I follow Micah Kellner (sponsor of the bill) on Twitter and he calls it Oreo’s Law.  At any rate, assuming I’m correct that they are talking about Oreo’s Law, I found many parts of the statement curious.  For example:

The Hayden Bill in California is often cited as a shining example of shelter access legislation, but it does nothing to address these kinds of situations and they are more prevalent in California than proponents of the bill are either aware of or willing to admit. In the last 2 years alone Best Friends has been asked to intervene in 267 hoarding situations affecting over 19,000 animals. Of those, 49 have been in California, 7 more incidents than the next three states combined.

First off, CA is huge.  They gots lots more of most things than other states.  Color me unimpressed with the numbers magic there.  Secondly, is BFAS saying that there have been 49 hoarding cases in CA in the last 2 years that were a direct result of the Hayden Act?  If yes, please provide some documentation and names so we can all learn.  If not, why mention the cases at all?  Animal hoarders exist.  We know.  It sucks.  But if these 49 cases are not situations where the hoarders got their animals by utilizing the Hayden Act, it’s extremely misleading to cite those cases here.

Read the entire statement and see if it seems clear to you.  I remain somewhat puzzled.

I also recommend reading a personal take on the situation with BFAS and Oreo’s Law from a former BFAS employee on John Sibley’s blog.  I am strongly in favor of Oreo’s Law (I wish it could be a federal law to be honest) and John speaks for me, and I suspect many others here:

I love Best Friends, and I am one of many. We want to see you succeed, and we want you to regain the moral compass that you once displayed so clearly. We, I, remain hopeful. I may be disappointed, but I still love Best Friends. We need you to step up right now and do the right thing. We need you to show the moral clarity that you started this journey with. We need your help.

It seems like Best Friends has done right by the animals in the past which is perhaps why their statements on Oreo’s Law seem confusing to me.  Is there something more to the story – a bigger picture I’m missing?  What do you think?

NY: Oreo’s Law Update

Oreo’s Law, designed to save the lives of death row shelter pets whom other rescues are willing to take, has been killed for the year.  The bill had a number of supporters, including Nathan Winograd (pdf), but was opposed by the ASPCA, the Animal Law Coalition and apparently Best Friends Animal Society.  I haven’t seen anything new from Best Friends since the proposal’s demise but they did issue a statement about it back in February.

My question:  Aren’t we killing enough pets in shelters without going out of the way to block legislation that would save those pets slated for death that rescue organizations are willing to accept?

Most shelter pets designated for killing are not lucky enough to have a rescue spot available for them.  I’d really like to see the ones that do get released to rescue.  There were some legitimate concerns raised during the discussion of the bill and it was amended to address those issues.  I felt satisfied it would do much more good than any potential harm.  With the tabling of Oreo’s Law, the NY shelter pets whose lives would have been saved now face death, which to my mind, is definite harm.

Legal News

Nye Co, NV:

[Animal Control officer Tim] McCarty was able to convince the owners of FLOCK (For the Love of Cats and Kittens) to surrender ownership and custody of the some 700 or more cats to the county which, in turn, placed the animals in the care of a rescue organization, Best Friends Animal Society.
[...]
Nye County then filed charges of animal neglect against FLOCK for failure to provide food, water and veterinary care in violation of Nevada Rev. Statutes §574.100.

That was two years ago. The case comes up for trial this week.

***

Pennsylvania:

Holly Crawford, who inspired outrage in legions of animal lovers when her Pennsylvania home was raided and several pierced animals were seized in late 2008, has been convicted of animal cruelty.

Crawford, a dog groomer by trade, had been marketing so-called “gothic kittens” — with piercings in their ears and necks — for sale on the Internet auction site eBay.

Ms. Crawford was found guilty last week of animal cruelty. The prosecutor will seek a prison term of 12 – 18 months. Sentencing is scheduled for March 31.

***

Proposed legislation in NY called Oreo’s Law, supported by many animal advocates but opposed by the ASPCA, has a website which includes responses to claims made by ASPCA in their opposition:

Oreo’s Law is based on nearly identical California legislation which has been in effect for over a decade. Despite similar dire predictions [that dangerous dogs will be released into communities] in California, there is no evidence this has occurred.

[...]

To oppose a law with such vast lifesaving potential for all animals entering a shelter based on dire predictions about aggressive dogs which have not materialized despite 11 years of experience in California is unethical and indefensible.

There is also an action page on the site with contact information.

Two Pieces from ‘USA Today’ on Oreo

USA Today has an interview with Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, a behaviorist with the ASPCA who worked with Oreo. He is asked about the opposition to releasing her to a sanctuary instead of killing her:

“Unless she was put in virtually complete isolation,” she’d live a “life of constant stress,” he said. She was so reactive to so many things that she was almost always agitated. “We tried to desensitize her, and that tended to make her more reactive. The kind of love, attention and handling that has worked with so many other dogs made her more hostile,” he said. Drugging her might have lowered her aggression, but if drugs succeeded, “you have to be certain someone would always maintain and monitor this treatment for the next 12 to 14 years … and there can be organ damage over time.” And finally, complete isolation from all people and animals is “not a quality of life we can accept.”

In another piece, USA Today heads down the well worn path of rationalizing killing while perpetuating the myth of pet overpopulation:

In shelters across the country Friday, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dogs met Oreo’s fate for the same reason she did: They were too violent — because people made them that way. At least Oreo got the benefit of months of efforts to try to make her capable of living peacefully in this world; most of the rest did not because most shelters haven’t the time, resources or expertise to work with such animals.
[...]
[A]lso on Friday, thousands of perfectly friendly dogs lost their lives in shelters simply because of the numbers reality: No more animals could be crammed in, but more are always arriving because people get bored with them or don’t feel like training them, or let them create litters. So discarded pets must die to make room for more discarded pets.

At some shelters, the kill rate is 90%, and the vast majority aren’t too vicious or too sick to save. They’re merely victims of overpopulation.

The piece suggests that compassionate people must come to terms with these “truths” even though it may be uncomfortable. The truth is that there is no such thing as pet overpopulation. The truth is that shelter pets do not have to be killed in order to make room for more. The truth is that we are a no kill nation of people who care about pets and know they deserve better.

Facing these truths may be uncomfortable at first for some, but the nature of life is change and evolution of thought. Thinking about the value of the lives of shelter pets and changing how we go about saving those lives is one way forward.

I Wish Wilkes Co was in NY

NY state legislators seem to take the business of needless dog killing seriously:

From the Office of Assembly Member Micah Kellner in Manhattan:

We are preparing to introduce legislation this week along with State Senator Tom Duane to require shelters to release any animal they plan to kill to a bonafide rescue group or humane organization which requests possession of [the animal].

The legislation is titled “Oreo’s Law”.

Added, 11-19-09: pdf of letter from No Kill Advocacy Center regarding Oreo’s Law.

ASPCA Euthanizes "Oreo"

Some of you may have been following the story of “Oreo”, a Pitbull mix in NY who survived terrible cruelty thanks to the care of the ASPCA. On Friday, the ASPCA euthanized her due to aggression:

Because adoption was not an option, the ASPCA looked at placing Oreo in a long-term resident facility. However, because of the aggressive behavior displayed, it is almost certain that Oreo would have lived out her entire life in seclusion from other dogs and people. Her contact with the outside world would have been minimal at best. Her quality of life would have been reduced to virtually nothing. Thus, we arrived at the painful yet clear decision to humanely euthanize Oreo.

I don’t know that I disagree with euthanizing a dog with extreme aggression, especially when extensive rehab efforts have been made as in Oreo’s case. But it is hard to support the decision to euthanize when a reasonable alternative exists. Pets Alive, a no kill shelter in NY with a proven track record regarding difficult dogs, had offered to take Oreo:

We offered to take Oreo to our facility and work with her. If she was adoptable we would adopt her out. If not she would live at the sanctuary for the rest of her life. That’s our standard offer.

As an outsider, it seems to me the ASPCA should have at least considered the offer and taken a tour of the facility where Oreo would live. This would give them a concrete idea of her potential quality of life, rather than the assumption they were basing their decision on. By refusing to consider the offer, the ASPCA comes off as irresponsible to my mind. The ASPCA must be held to a very high standard due to their size and influence and they must set an example for preventing cruelty to animals, like the name says. I can’t see how they’ve met this burden or fulfilled their obligation to Oreo by refusing to consider a reasonable alternative to her death.

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